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The Falkirk Wheel

The Falkirk Wheel is the world's first, and only, rotating boat lift. The Wheel is part of a completely new link between the Forth & Clyde Canal and the Union Canal, in central Scotland, and is part of the largest canal re-generation project in Britain. It replaces a flight of locks - eleven in all - which were last used in 1933. It used to take most of the day for boats to negotiate those eleven locks. The Falkirk Wheel has cut that time to just over five minutes.

The Falkirk Wheel

The Falkirk Wheel

The Falkirk area is no stranger to engineering innovation. The Carron Company's iron foundry at Carronshore, right beside the town, was where the original 'Carronades' were produced. These naval guns were in action on some of Britain's most famous fighting ships; not least Nelson's flagship at Trafalgar, HMS VIctory. It is said that at the height of the war with France the glow from the massive Carron furnaces lit up the countryside for miles around as ever more guns were produced.

The original Carron Company no longer exists but it has left an unusual legacy in the form of a colour. When the world's first postal service was being established in Britain it was Carron that won the order to produce the first pillar boxes. They were cast-iron and needed to be painted as soon as possible after manufacture to prevent them going rusty; but no colour had been specified in the order. Carron had a job-lot of paint in stock which was surplus to requirements so they used that. The paint just happened to be bright red. That red, which soon became known nationally as 'pillar box red', has remained in use as the principal colour of the Royal Mail's bright and eye catching livery ever since. What a blessing that their surplus stock of paint wasn't grey! For many years Carron were the sole supplier of pillar boxes and, later, telephone boxes and many of them are still to be found today with the Carron name cast into them.

But back to the Falkirk Wheel. The Wheel forms part of the Millenium link which includes two new aqueducts and the first canal tunnel to be excavated in Britain for over a hundred years. The wheel lifts boats up from the Forth & Clyde Canal to the level of the Union Canal about 34 metres above and, of course, brings boats back down again from the higher Union Canal to the Forth & Clyde Canal. There are two 'gondolas' each weighing 50 tonnes and containing 250 tonnes of water. Each gondola can accommodate up to four canal boats depending on their size. As each boat displaces it's own weight of water the total weight of each gondola is always 300 tonnes regardless of how many boats are in either gondola. So the two gondolas always counter-balance each other perfectly.

The wheel is controlled by two computers and can rotate in either direction. The direction for any one rotation is determined by the computers, taking account of current conditions including wind speed and direction. Because the two gondolas are always perfectly balanced, the Wheel requires surprisingly little power to operate. Its ten hydraulic motors use only a total of 1.5KW hours of power for each rotation so lifting four boats costs only a few pence.

If you live within reasonable reach of Falkirk or if you are passing through Central Scotland, perhaps on the way to a Highland holiday, then the Falkirk Wheel is a 'must-see' attraction. There are frequent canal boat cruises which will take you from the lower basin onto the Wheel and then up to the level of the Union Canal, across the aqueduct and back again. Booking is recommended for these trips. Further details are available on the Falkirk Wheel's Official Website where you will also find a much better description than I could ever manage of how the whole thing works. Finally, since a picture's worth a thousand words, or so they tell me, here's a picture gallery of Photographs of the Wheel taken in 2004.

Copyright © Mike Nagel 2005

Unless otherwise stated all text and graphics on this website are Copyright © Mike Nagel 2003 - . For permission to reproduce any of the content of this site, or to report any problems, please e-mail me

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